The Write to Roam

The Personal Blog of Ethan Brooks

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On Life’s Big Fucking Hills

Adventure starts at the place where your plans end. Sometimes, you set out with the goal of having an adventure, and so you purposefully avoid planning. Nothing more than a blank spot on the calendar, a sacked lunch, and an inkling to wander in one direction or another. Other times you’re thrust into adventure when you take a wrong turn, or the power goes out, or any of a thousand other things happen that shake you from the fragile web of your own carefully laid plans. This is more commonly known as misadventure.

Of the two, I tend to find the latter more enjoyable.

For nearly six months I had been traveling in Europe, doing work-trades in exchange for hot meals and a roof over my head. It wasn’t a bad way to live. Staying with local families felt authentic, and I’d lucked into some pretty posh digs. One house had two kitchens, and bedrooms overlooking the sea. Another had a walled garden with its own heated indoor pool. I was living like a millionaire without spending a dime.

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On Small Deaths and the Need for Adventure

Why do we go away? This is the question that every adventurer wrestles with at one point or another. Why can’t we be happy with a settled life, a quiet town, a loving partner, a stable job? What pushes us out the door again and again, away from home and into the punishing reality of a life “out there”? Makes us draw taught the sails, and point the bow towards the irresistible siren song of a distant horizon? What are we hoping to find?

In a word, clarity.

Clarity of mind, and of purpose. For I am never so clear as in those days just before the beginning of some new and dangerous undertaking.

There is a certain noise to civilized life, a clashing and clanging of the grand machine; Of politics, and bills, appointments, and grocery lists. The ruckus of obligation, which grows louder with time. Death alone brings silence from the noise.

Each big adventure is like a very small death. Unlike a vacation, an adventure is filled with risk and contains within it the very real possibility that you may never return. It’s this possibility that allows you to step outside the life you’re currently building, and examine it as though you were about to leave it behind forever. As a trip draws near, the volume on life’s noise goes down each day until soon you’re left with the pleasant hum of nothing but the essentials; The thing’s you’re truly passionate about; The people you want to spend time with; The things you want to say to them.

And then you go. Out to the edges of the map, the places unknown. There you live a different sort of life. It’s difficult, but not in the same way as life back home. You eat less, and sleep less. You’re colder than you want to be, hotter than you think you can bear. You come face to face with your own smallness, and realize that the world truly doesn’t care whether you live or die. And somehow, in the face of that, your own will to live is fanned to a roaring blaze.

The world you left behind no longer seems chaotic and full of noise, but colorful and set to music. Life, you realize, is full of possibilities. It’s there for the taking, and there are no rules except that you must be willing to reap whatever it is that you sow. Your eyes turn once more towards civilized life and the sweet promises of building a place for yourself, shredding endless piles of junk mail, falling in love, and watching TV talent shows.

And so in this way adventure is partly about escaping civilized life so that you can learn to love it once again. It is the winter that strips away all the excess, so that spring can usher in a new bloom. We go, not just because adventure is out there. We go so that we can come back.

A Taste of Patagonia

Patagonica is a visual love note, created by Joe “Dapp” Foster during an intense month-long trip to Patagonia in 2015.

A four-week blur of hiking, filming, and driving, the team spent more than twenty days on foot exploring the jungles, fjords, and glaciers of Patagonia, capturing hundreds of hours of footage, and navigating more than six-thousand kilometers of twisting mountain roads in a rented van they called Condorito.

With such a heavy workload, fancy meals were mostly off the menu.

“Wonderful culinary experiences? I wouldn’t say my trips lend themselves to them…” he said as we talked just a few days after the film debuted. “We had our goals, we had to get shots. So if a granola bar is what allows you to get the shot and keep moving, then, well… Cooking’s considered a luxury.”

When timing and fortune allowed, they hungrily availed themselves of piping hot empanadas, made in the local way. But for much of the trip cooking was limited to simple stir-fries done up over a camp stove, or freeze-dried meals quickly re-hydrated with boiling water.

That was fine for the team of five, all of whom were experienced adventurers used to the rigors of life off the beaten track. But it made it that much more special when they connected with Ervin, their local guide in Futaleufú, for a homemade meal and a round of Pisco Sours.

You know Ervin, he’s the guy at the 1:22 mark who’s drinking wine from a traditional bota in slow motion. The meal— chicken and vegetables roasted over a wood fire, and hand-made gnocchi — features prominently with at least three shots starting at the 0:24 mark. Three or four shots may not seem like a lot. But when you consider that the movie is just three minutes long, and how carefully each shot had to be chosen from the hundreds of hours of footage, you get a sense for how special the night really was.

“I’ve never put eating food in a film before,” Foster said, “But that was big for us. It was really a moment.”

What Happened When I Tried to Triple My Rates

Like many people in the web consulting arena, when I first started I was in a constant battle with myself to charge what I was worth. I had bills to pay, and some particularly lean times had led me to lower my prices in order to get anything. Luckily, the new lower rates brought work, but over time as my business matured they also brought a bunch of headaches as well.

To begin with, I was stressed and distracted. In order to try and meet my financial goals I was filling my schedule with as many as twelve or fourteen projects at once, then juggling them throughout the week to ensure they all continued moving forward. Not only was this hard on me, I was beginning to feel that it wasn’t the best situation for my clients either, who relied on my focus and attention to detail in our work together.

Aside from the stress, I was being underpaid and I knew it. Worse, I was the one who was underpaying myself. I didn’t just suspect that I was under-charging, I had peers tell me so. I had clients tell me so. I had one client ask my price, then offer to pay me 30% more. I recognized full-well that my stress was completely self-imposed, and that the only person who could reverse it was little old me.

But the decision to raise my prices was slow in coming. My lean times had been really lean — like, $0.08 in my bank account and no work on the horizon lean — and when my income finally leveled out I promised myself I’d never end up in that place again. Even though people had told me I was undercharging, I was worried that raising my prices might take me straight back to broke-town. I knew logically that if I tripled my rate (which would put me in about the center of the pack in terms of competitive pricing) I could feasibly lose two in three customers and maintain my income. But there was nothing to say they didn’t all leave me, and that was my major hang up.

Beyond that, I develop close relationships with all my clients. Some of them are like family to me, and I enjoy working with them tremendously. I was partly worried about losing the business, but equally worried about offending them, or seeming to pull the rug out from beneath them.

One afternoon while staring blankly at the cover of a Tony Robins book on my coffee table, I finally had a revelation. I realized that the reason I had so many clients wasn’t because I had low prices, but because I’d put my mind to getting each and every one of them. Each had a unique type of business, and I’d really wanted to work with them, so I’d put in the effort and ended up winning the job. I realized that there was very little — maybe nothing — that I’d ever wanted that I hadn’t gotten once I focused and acted. I realized that I wanted to make a better living for myself, and be able to deliver greater value to my clients, and that the only way to do that would be to raise my prices.

I realized that they might leave me, but I also decided that I wasn’t going to be the one to keep myself or my business down. Then I sat down and drafted the following email:

letter1

Then clicked send, and waited for the world to end…It didn’t.

In fact, the response was overwhelmingly supportive, even positive. Part of the reason, I know, is that many of my clients were self employed and understood the exact same struggle. Some were in the exact same industry as me, and subcontracted to me. As I mentioned, we build a close working relationship and routinely offer each other help or advice on our businesses. one

However, even those who were outside of my industry didn’t press the eject button.

two

In the end it may have taken some short-term work off the table

three

But ultimately no one walked, and virtually everyone was very supportive — even a personal friend whom I’d previously been charging nothing.

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In the end I got more than I asked for. My hourly rates went up, my existing project-load may have been lightened a bit, and I kept all of my clients.

How to Duplicate These Types of Results

I don’t think these results are a given for everyone who raises their rates, even if they’re currently undercharging. There are two things I’ve been doing that I think had a profound effect on the outcome of this move. Both of them come from Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle and have to do with developing clients that take your business to the next level.

1. Define the Right Types of Clients

When I first started out I was hungry, and eager, and worried about making it to happy hour with my friends so I took on virtually every project that came my way. Some clients didn’t feel like a good fit, but I took them on anyway with the idea that – when things were better – I’d be more selective.

Then, I proceeded to work straight through happy hour, servicing accounts that took up way too much of my time, and paid way too little (sometimes even shirking the bill). It’s hell, and if you’re self employed you’ve probably been there. The change came when I began listening to Seanwes, and realized that the better work would never come until after I began being more selective.

It’s scary to tell yourself that you’re going to turn down work. Especially when those bills are marching your way, and it seems like the phone’s gone silent. But very quickly I found it to be the best business decision I’d made in months. My project load dropped off a little bit, but the things I was working on were going unbelievably smoothly. What’s more, the good clients were referring more good clients, and the whole system was building on itself.

Now, before taking on work I’ll sit with a prospect to talk and ensure our personalities are a good fit. As a result, my client list is filled with the names of respectful, attentive, successful people who work hard and value my time. I have no doubt this selectivity was a huge driving force in the response I got.

2. Provide Extraordinary Service

The second thing Koch suggests is to go above and beyond for your existing clients.

Whether or not I’m successful at that is ultimately for my clients to say. But the one thing I can control is how much thought goes into providing them with extraordinary service.

Each day I wrap things up by spending fifteen minutes brainstorming ways in which I can take our relationship from good to extraordinary. Ways in which I can step outside the role of my typical advisory position, and provide extra value to them and their clients. That habit has yielded a lot, and I’d recommend it to everyone.

There are other tips in Koch’s book, and I believe every business owner should read it. I also hope that for those who are considering raising their prices this article has served to convince you it’s possible.

Homemade French Pastry

Before handing me the keys to my temporary home in the French countryside, the owner gave me three simple instructions: Play fetch with the dog, Gyp, at least twice a day. Give the cat, Ella, plenty of lap-time. And check the inflatable pool house each week, to be sure it wasn’t leaking.

I followed all three instructions diligently, and for nearly a month everything was fine. Then… drama.

Table of Contents:

Intro
Quick Recipe
Background
Why Learn This Dish?
Ingredients
Instructions
Video

A storm howled like a freight train through the region, battering the countryside with rain, and hail, and gail-force winds. It tossed the pool house like a toy, slamming into it broadside and sliding more than a thousand pounds of water and plastic five feet across the deck and into the pool itself. With time the storm passed. But in its wake it left a massive, heavy, sodden, plastic mess sunk beneath roughly a metric shit-ton of grimy water. And it was my responsibility, as the house-sitter, to get it back up.

To her credit, Gyp tried to lend a hand. She sat dutifully by the edge of the pool, keeping a watchful eye on the donkeys which grazed in an adjacent field. I’m not sure whether she thought this was their fault, or simply that their proximity would thwart any repair efforts, but whenever they got close enough to the fence for their ears to hang over she’d run and bark and scare them off.

Ella, on the other hand, was perfectly useless. She’d slink out to  the pool whenever I was knee-deep in muck and plastic, then sit on the deck looking at me in that judgy way that only felines can.

It took two days of siphoning, pumping, draining, lifting, and stretching. There were more than a few close calls. More than a few setbacks. More than a few sudden hailstorms. But at long last, I was able to get the foundation of the bubble back in place, skim the water off the top, and restore it to it’s bubbly grandeur.

When it was over, I needed to celebrate. More than just a drink — I’d really strained myself. I’d waded through icy green water, gashed my foot on something mysterious, pulled muscles I didn’t know I had. At one point I was almost vacuum-packed by a five-hundred pound blanket of deflating plastic. No a cheap bottle of wine wasn’t going to cut it. I wanted something forbidden. I wanted some fucking cake…

Excuse my french.

What is Kouign Amann?

Kouign Amann (pronounced queen a-mahn) is a buttery, flaky, sugar-coated pastry from the Brittany region of France, where all of this drama took place. Its name literally translates to butter cake in the local dialect. Sweet, crispy layers of laminated dough, with peaks of caramelized sugar and just a hint of sea salt to make the flavors pop. You haven’t lived ’till you’ve tried one, which is ironic because once you have you’ve removed about nine years from whatever life expectancy you had left.

 

“The sea conditions everything in Brittany; its salt is in the blood of the people.”

-R.A.J. Walling, The Charm of Brittany

Salt is the life blood of Brittany. It’s a place that grew up around the sea — “ar mor” as its called — and for more than a thousand years it lay secluded from the rest of France, accessible only by its beautiful rugged coast. Then it was known simply by its Gaulish name, Aremorica, the place by the sea.

According to R.A.J. Walling, author of The Charm of Brittany, even Caesar himself commanding the armies of Rome was unable to conquer Aremorica by land. It took Decimus Brutus and a great naval battle to finally subjugate the region and its people.

But it wasn’t to last. Rome fell, at the feet of invading hordes, and just as the sea brought Brutus’ fleet to Aremorica’s horizon, it ushered in the next wave of people who would call this place home. Small bands of Celts, fleeing the islands of the north, settled at various points along this new land’s shores. They came from Britain. They named this place Brittany.

Like many things in this region of France, Kouign Amann is patently un-French. Brittany is a French region, but the culture is Celtic, and the language spoken around the hearth for many generations was actually closer to Cornish than it was to French.

All of this helps to explain why searching for kouign amann in Google Translate produces no useful results. It also hints at why many people living nearby looked utterly lost whenever I tried to communicate in my (very) basic French.

Why Learn to Make Kouign Amann?

The most practical reason to learn to make Kouign Amann is that in doing so you’ll learn to make laminated dough, which can easily be used to make dozens of other pastries and baked goods from around the world.

Laminated dough is a combination of yeasted bread dough and a slab of butter, laid out carefully, chilled, and folded a few times in order to create dozens of alternating layers. When the heat from the oven hits the dough, the water inside turns to steam which puffs up the layers, while the heat causes the butter to essentially deep-fry some of the dough. The end result is a product with the flakiness of puff pastry, and the heft of something more substantial.

Croissants, turnovers, cinnamon rolls, cheese twists, danishes, and even some pie crusts and tops all use laminated dough. Master this process, and you’ve basically become the king of brunch.

At the Market

Let’s talk about what you’ll need. Below you’ll find a recipe card, complete with ingredient names translated into French so you can find them while you’re wandering a foreign market.

Photo Mar 05, 11 28 24 AM

Further down, you can find in-depth explanations of each item, along with ideas for substitutes.

Substitutes?!

Yes, substitutes.

Some people rail against the idea of substitutes when cooking, and especially when baking. Different ingredients will yield different results, they say. They’re right.

But the point of Cooking Travelers is to make recipes accessible no matter where in the world you are. According to ClassoFoods’ extensive course on bread and bread-making, there are enormous differences in the various types of flours, salts, yeasts, and even water that go into doughs like this. There can even be noticeable differences between two bags of the same flour that were processed by different workers at the same factory.

With so much potential variability, you can either opt for anal-retentive, monk-like obsession with detail, or you can shoot for the main gist of the thing, and enjoy some damn cake. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something inspiring about watching a masterful pastry chef do their thing. But when it comes to this piece, and other pieces on this site for that matter, it’s more important that you understand the concepts, so you can make smart substitutions when you need to.

Then substitute away.

[amd-yrecipe-recipe:2]

yeast

There are a lot of different types of yeast available, and it’s important you choose the right one because the yeast does some heavy lifting in this recipe.

You want Baker’s Yeast, not Nutritional Yeast or Brewer’s Yeast. Both Nutritional, and Brewer’s yeasts are dried at very high temperatures, which deactivates the yeast cells, rendering them useless for leavening.

Baker’s Yeast, on the other hand is dried at low temperatures, so while some of the cells die off, they encapsulate other living cells and preserve them. This is why many supermarket yeasts need to be mixed with water before use. You’re re-activating the dormant yeast cells.

Among the Baker’s yeasts, you’re most likely to run into one of three: Active Dry, Instant, and Rapid Rise. Among the three, each should work fine, but may require different activation so read the instructions carefully. The debate rages on as to whether Rapid Rise is worthy of being used in recipes. I used it, and enjoyed the results.

The one type of Baker’s Yeast you want to avoid if you see it is Deactivated Yeast. It’s usually reserved for pizza doughs, and like Brewer’s Yeast and Nutritional Yeast, it’s got no leavening properties.

Elevation changes the way doughs rise. If you’re traveling high above sea level, and the recipe isn’t seeming to work out properly, try consulting King Arthur Flour’s helpful hints for high-altitude baking.

flour

Flour is another ingredient with loads of options. Most recipes for laminated dough, and Kouign Amann in particular, advise against using All-Purpose (or AP) flour. Some say it doesn’t have enough protein to put out a nice firm dough, others point to the fact that the recipe requires so much time and attention, you might as well use the best you can get.

That said, I used AP flour, or Type 55 as it’s called in France, end enjoyed the results. You can experiment with other flours for fun if you like. But if all you can find is AP, then don’t be afraid to use it.

Some people ask whether they can use gluten-free flour for a recipe like this. Most bakers agree that a gluten-free flour alone won’t give you the kind of consistency you’re looking for. But Nicole Hunn of Gluten Free on a Shoestring has a handful of all-purpose gluten free flour blends which are much more likely to get the job done. She’s even got a recipe for croissants which doesn’t seem much different than this one (save the flour blend).

If you’re avoiding gluten just because you’ve heard it’s bad, then my advice would be to throw caution to the wind for this recipe. The sugar is going to do more damage to your system than the gluten will. But if you’re avoiding gluten because it makes you ill, then opt for Nicole’s flour blends.

butter

You want to use salted butter. You’ll need about a half-pound for this recipe. It’d be best if you can get it as a single large block. But don’t be afraid to simply use two sticks (or a lot of little restaurant butter packets) if that’s all you have access to.  Keep it in the refrigerator until you’re ready to work with it.

sugar

You don’t need anything fancy. Plain old granulated sugar will work just fine.

salt

Most recipes call for a 10-1 sugar-to-salt ratio, but I found that produced a sickly-sweet end product that I didn’t enjoy eating at all. You need some salt, otherwise the sugar just tastes bland. But rather than mixing it into the sugar and dough, I recommend simply sprinkling a small pinch on the pastries right before they go in the oven.

Use the finest textured salt you can find. Kosher will work, but a very fine sea salt will work better.

Wine

What?! I didn’t see wine on the ingredient list!

Shame on you. You should always cook with wine nearby. In this case, it doesn’t go in the mixing bowl, it goes in your mouth. You can use the empty bottle as a club to beat the butter senseless (see step #3), and as a rolling pin.

You could just opt for a rolling pin. But Ella, the cat, would judge you.

In the Kitchen

Alright let’s talk process. In order to make this recipe globe-trotter friendly I’ve tried to remove as many steps and tools as possible, while still getting high quality results.

Equipment

All you need to make this is a large mixing bowl, a baking pan, a knife, a kitchen-towel, and the afore-mentioned rolling pin/wine bottle.

“But what about the dough hook I see in other recipes?” I hear you ask, “What about the wax paper? The plastic-wrap? And the spoons… What about the measuring spoons?”

We need to have a talk about your precious measuring spoons. Did you ever stop to ask yourself where measuring cups or spoons came from? The answer is that they were popularized at the turn of the century by a woman named Fannie Farmer (I’m not kidding).

They were popularized in large part to make reading and writing recipes easier, not because precise measurements were actually needed in cooking. A lot of kitchen equipment is this way; nice to have, but by no means necessary.

Your Italian grandmother didn’t need a set of measuring spoons and with some practice, neither do you!

Use the measuring cups the first few times you try a recipe. But pay close attention to how things look when they go together. The very best batches I made (the fifth and sixth) were eyeballed from start to finish.

The one thing you really can’t do without is some kind of low-temperature environment. If the house is cold, that will work, but a refrigerator or freezer is better. This dough works by creating distinct layers of dough and butter. If it gets too warm, the butter begins to melt into the layers of dough, which will inhibit your puffing/layering effect.

So, with your mixing bowl, knife, and freezer space ready, lets get started.

Part I: Making Laminated Dough

Step #1: Activate Yeast

Pour 1 Cup of warm water into your mixing bowl. Add to that a tablespoon of sugar, and two teaspoons (or one standard packet) of yeast. Stir it lightly, then leave it to activate for about ten minutes.

After ten minutes you should see a very light foam forming on the surface of the liquid. This is important. It’s a sign that your batch of yeast is good. Yeast is extremely sensitive to heat, and can only be stored for so long even at room temperatures. When live yeast begins processing the sugar you put in the water, it releases small amounts of ethanol along with carbon dioxide, which bubbles to the top creating the foam. The carbon dioxide bubbles are what cause bread to rise.

Yeast Activation for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

If there’s no foam forming on the surface of the liquid, it’s a sign that the batch of yeast you got is de-activated or dead. You need to scrap it and start with a new batch. Otherwise, your dough won’t rise.

Step #2: Mix Dough

Once the yeast has had time to activate, add your flour to the bowl. Stir or mix with floured hands until the flour and water combine into a shaggy dough. It will be sticky at first. Continue adding flour one small hand-full at a time until the whole thing forms a single ball, and no longer sticks to everything it touches.

Then lay it in the bottom of the bowl, and cover the bowl with a clean, dry kitchen towel, and set it aside for about two hours until the dough doubles in size.

While the actual work of laminated dough doesn’t take long, there’s a lot of waiting involved.

Once your dough has doubled in size, roll it out roughly onto a floured baking pan, then store it in the freezer while you move to the next step.

Step #3: Soften Butter

Now that your dough is chilling, it’s time to create the slab of butter which will give the final product all its layers.

Lay your butter out on a floured work surface. Then sprinkle the top with more flour, and proceed to beat the hell out of it with your rolling pin/wine-bottle. Your goal is to smoosh it flat, then fold it over and smoosh it flat again.

Floured Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Repeat the process two or three times, flouring as needed to keep the butter from sticking to the counter, and working the butter down into a rectangle that’s about twice as long as it is wide.

Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Try not to touch the butter with your hands while you work. Instead, lift the edge with your knife to fold it over onto itself. It’s approaching the right softness when it folds, rather than breaking.

Folded Butter for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Work it until it’s a little thinner than your pinky. Watch the surface to be sure it’s not getting too warm and melting. You want a pliable slab of butter, not a melted puddle. If it starts to get even a little bit shiny, simply put it on a plate and return it to the fridge for a few minutes, allowing it to cool once again.

Pound it into a rough rectangle, then set it aside and pull your dough from the freezer.

You want your dough, and butter to be roughly the same texture. As Grant from Chef Steps points out, if the butter is way harder than the dough, then the dough will simply tear when you begin folding. If the butter’s way softer, it can get too warm and begin soaking into the dough.

People get really intimidated by this recipe, but they needn’t be. Practice makes perfect, but even if you’re a knuckle dragger like me, it’s pretty forgiving.

Step #4: The Fold

Okay, this is the basis of laminated dough. It’s the difference between warm, flaky layers, and a pile of bread and butter.

Lay the dough out on a floured surface, and roll to a rectangle that’s abut three times as long as it is wide. Place your butter slab on top, with the bottoms matching. The butter should be almost as wide as the dough, and roughly 2/3 the length.

Dough and Butter for Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Then you’re going to fold it in thirds. Fold the top of the dough down, then fold the bottom up, then rotate 90° as shown in the photos. This process is known simply as “a fold”. Perform the whole thing once and you’ve done a fold, repeat it four times and you’ve done four folds.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

That’s it. That’s the move you have to master. Roll the dough out, fold the top down, bottom up, spin 90°. Repeating this is all that’s involved in making laminated dough.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

The real trick is to keep your dough cold, so after each fold return it to the freezer for 5 or 10 minutes. As long as your dough stays cold, you keep the butter from melting into the dough. Real pastry chefs will chill dough for hours between folds. But Grant from Chef Steps says that you can be a little less precise when you’re making Kouign Amann. Cold dough is the force-multiplier in getting really great pastries.

Folding Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Because of the compounding effect of folding layer after layer, it doesn’t take long to reach the three and four-digit layer zone. After a mere four folds, you’ll have more than 240 layers, which is plenty for Kouign Amann. Make your last fold, and return the dough to the freezer to chill before proceeding to the next step.

Rolling Laminated Dough -- Cooking Travelers

Part II: Turning Laminated Dough into Kouign Amann

Step #1: Add Sugar

This is the step that takes laminated dough, and turns it into Kouign Amann dough. Clear your work surface, then coat it liberally with granulated sugar.

Sugar for Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Roll your dough out on the sugar, coat the top with even more sugar, and continue rolling.

Roll the sheet out until it’s a large rectangle a little thinner than the width of your pinky. When it’s finally rolled out, coat the top with another layer of sugar, and lift the edges to throw sugar underneath it as well.

You should basically be thinking “Wow, this is a ridiculous amount of sugar”. If you’re not, there’s either a problem with your Kouign Amann, or the rest of your diet.

Step#2: Cut & Fold

Trim the edges of your sheet so that it’s rectangular. When you’re cutting the dough, try to cut straight down, lifting the knife before each cut, rather than slicing. Slicing can crimp the edges, inhibiting puff. You don’t want to inhibit puff.

Next, cut the sheet into squares roughly 4″x 4″. They don’t have to be perfect. We’re going to use these squares to make our final pastries. Here I’m going to show you three different ways you can fold your pastries. The first is the most commonly suggested muffin-tin method. It’s perfect for making interestingly shaped, perfectly caramelized, single-serve portions as long as you have a muffin tin.

Pastry Square -- Cooking Travelers

If, like me, you find yourself elbow-deep in pastry flour only to realize you’re in a house with no muffin tin, you’ll need another solution. That’s where the other two folds come in. They’re my favorites after testing nearly a dozen variations, and judging the results based on final look, caramelization, and  general un-fuck-up-ability.

The Muffin Tin Fold

Fold the corners of your squares into the center, and pinch them lightly together. Place each inside a buttered, sugared muffin tin hole.

Muffin Tin Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

The Vol au Vent Fold 

Fold your square diagonally so it’s a triangle, then make one cut parallel to both of the triangle’s legs, roughly a half-inch from the edge. Don’t let the incisions meet otherwise you’ll just be left with a smaller square of dough.

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Open the triangle back up into a diamond, so that the uncut sections are at the top and bottom of the diamond. Take the right outer-corner and fold it across to the left, then repeat by folding the left outer-corner over to the right, as seen in the images below.

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

VOL AU VENT Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Not only does this give you a nice final shape, but it also gives you a pocket in which you can stuff fruit jam, or diced apples tossed in sugar. While fillings of various types are popular, they’re not required.

The Pinwheel Fold

Make four diagonal cuts toward the center of your square, leaving the middle untouched, as shown in the photos below.

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Then, fold one corner of each triangle down toward the center of the pastry, overlapping them as you go.

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Pinwheel Kouign Amann -- Cooking Travelers

Once again, this gives you a little spot in the center of the pastry to add filling if you choose.

Step #3: Bake

Heat your oven to 400°F.

Take a tablespoon of butter and smear it around the bottom of your baking sheet, then coat it liberally with a handful or two of sugar. Tilt your tray side to side in order to coat the whole bottom. This will give your pastries the patent caramelized bottom which is so important for Kouign Amann.

Place your pastries on the baking sheet, then sprinkle them with more sugar. Finally sprinkle just the tiniest bit of salt over the top of each one. A little salt goes a long way here so really go easy on it. A single two-finger pinch spread between all your pastries should suffice.

Put the tray in the oven for 15-20 minutes. Check them at the fifteen minute mark, and roughly every 2-3 minutes after that.

You’re getting very close when the laminated dough is puffed, and you begin seeing browning on the peaks of the pastries. There is a point, just as the caramelized sugar begins to give off little wisps of smoke, which is when you should pull them. But be careful, these things go from caramelized to burned quickly. Keep an eye on them, and pull them early rather than late.

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